Tuesday, October 7, 2014

It Came From The Cineplex: Annabelle

Annabelle was written by Gary Dauberman and directed by John R. Leonetti. 

Leonetti's had a long career as a cinematographer, and Annabelle marks just his third time in the director's chair. He previously directed Mortal Kombat: Annihilation and The Butterfly Effect 2. That should tell you everything you need to know about this film.

Annabelle is a prequel of sorts to 2013's The Conjuring, but its connection to that film is tenuous at best. In The Conjuring, a family experiencing supernatural attacks contacts famed paranormal investigators Ed and Lorraine Warren. The Warrens agree to take their case, having just finished an investigation involving a possessed doll named Annabelle. 

There's a brief scene in which the owner of the doll describes how it seemed to move by itself and move from room to room. At the end of the movie we see the Annabelle doll sitting inside a glass case in the Warren's supernatural trophy room.

And that's it! That's the extent of the connection between the two films. The Warrens don't even bother to make an appearance in this movie. The scene of the woman describing Annabelle's shenanigans pops up at the very beginning of the film, but I can't tell if it's the same footage from The Conjuring or if they reshot it. I'd have to watch both films again to be sure, and that ain't happening.

Another preposterous supernatural film that the producers assure us was based on true events (wink wink). 

It's a pretty standard "evil doll" story that's not particularly scary and borrows liberally from many other films.


The Plot:
In 1967, happy young couple Mia and John Form are expecting their first baby. John gives Mia a surprise– a large, ghastly antique 
porcelain doll she's been hunting for, which she names Annabelle. 

The Form's lives are turned upside down when their next door neighbors are brutally murdered by their estranged daughter and her boyfriend, who are members of a satanic cult. Mia is also attacked and injured by the cultists. The police arrive and shoot the male cultist, while the female kills herself while clutching the Annabelle doll. As she lays dying, blood from her wounds drips into the doll's eye. Ruh-roh!

Mia survives the attack but is ordered to spend the rest of her pregnancy in bed. She echoes the audience's sentiments and tells John she can't bear to look at the Annabelle doll anymore, as her attacker was clutching it when she died. John stuffs Annabelle into a trash can. Shortly after Mia is home alone when a fire starts in the kitchen. She narrowly escapes, and the trauma induces her labor. She gives birth to a daughter she names Lea. 

Mia feels there are too many bad memories in their old home, so they move to an ominous apartment building in the city. As she's unpacking, Mia is surprised to find Annabelle in one of the boxes. Instead of pitching the hideous thing into the incinerator, she shrugs and sets it on the shelf again. As if on cue, supernatural occurrences begin happening in their new home.

Mia meets a lady named Evelyn who runs a nearby bookstore. Evelyn seems to know way more than she should about Mia and her situation and gives her a book about satanic cults. Mia reads the book and determines that Annabelle is possessed by a demon that wants Lea's soul. She gives Annabelle to their priest, Father Perez, and asks him to destroy it for her.

Father Perez takes Annabelle to the church, but is attacked by the ghost of the female cultist, who steals the doll. He warns John that it's Mia's soul that the demon wants, not Lea's. John races home and finds Mia standing in the window, clutching Annabelle. She's ready to jump and sacrifice her soul in order to save Lea. At the last second Evelyn grabs Annabelle and jumps out the window. She willingly offered her soul to the demon to atone for causing her own daughter's death years before.

The film ends with Annabelle– complete with pallid gray skin and horrible bloodshot eyes– being bought by a doll collector.

• If you remove the evil doll from the equation, the general plot of the film bears more than a slight resemblance to that of Rosemary's Baby

You've got your young woman struggling with a difficult pregnancy, she and her husband moving to a strange new apartment, an odd neighbor who may or may not have sinister motives, supernatural occurrences that may all be in the heroine's mind... it's all very similar.

Also, the two main characters in Annabelle are named Mia and John. The main actors in Rosemary's Baby were Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. Coincidence, or knowing wink to the audience?

One last possible, and admittedly tenuous connection: Rosemary's Baby was directed by Roman Polanski. In 1969, Polanski's pregnant wife Sharon Tate was attacked and murdered by members of the Manson Family, in an incident very much like the beginning of Annabelle.

• The film is set in 1967, so you know what that means! Historical Inaccuracies! 

Mia hears a disturbance coming from next door, and wakes John. He goes to investigate and comes running back a few seconds later, telling Mia to call an ambulance. She picks up the phone and says, "Hello, 911?"

The 911 system was first put into place in 1968 in New York City, but many cities didn't implement it until well into the 1980s. California, where the film is set, adopted the system in 1985. Whoops!

After Mia is stabbed by the intruders, John takes her to the hospital, where she gets a sonogram. 

The sonogram was developed in Scotland in 1956, but wasn't widely used in the U.S. until the mid to late 1970s. Whoops again!

There's a scene in which John brings home a bag full of groceries to the pregnant Mia, who's having cravings. There's a bag of Taco Flavored Doritos prominently placed on the kitchen table. It practically fills the entire screen!

Unfortunately Doritos didn't introduce their taco flavor until 1968. Whoops yet again!

• After the stabbing incident, the doctor orders Mia to stay in bed for the remainder of her pregnancy. Of course she does so for one or two scenes before seemingly ignoring this advice, galavanting around the apartment at will.

• The real (wink wink) Annabelle was actually a Raggedy Ann doll. The movie version is an off-putting, hideous porcelain thing with a terrifying, leering face. Everything about it, from its expression to its proportions, just seems unpleasant and downright wrong. Was this look intentional, or were the filmmakers not able to get the rights to use a Raggedy Ann doll?

I'm guessing that a cute doll, while technically accurate (wink wink), just wouldn't have been very scary. It'd be hard to take an evil Raggedy Ann seriously.

Unfortunately I think they made the Annabelle doll look a little too sinister. Almost comically so. When John surprises Mia, who's an avid doll collector, with Annabelle she gushes over it, saying she's been looking for one for years. The idea that anyone in their right mind would intentionally want such a hideous looking thing is laughable.

• After Mia's attack– in which her bloody assailant died while clutching Annabelle– she understandably demands the doll be destroyed. John tosses it into the trash. When they move to their new apartment, Annabelle mysteriously reappears.

Instead of destroying the goddamned thing with fire like a normal person would, she makes a complete and incomprehensible 180º turn and decides to keep Annabelle. Never mind that the doll is now dirty and sooty, it's deathly-gray face and rictus grin even more horrifying than before. she's got to have it, no arguments!

This pulled me right out of the film. It was so out of character, so unlike what a real person would do that it was a real deal breaker for me. The only reason for Mia to change her mind about the doll is because the script said so. There was no way for the story to commence if she didn't let the doll back in the house, so damn the motivation! Full speed ahead!

• What was the deal with the creepy stair kids? 

Mia meets two kids who also live in her building, and while they weren't particularly malevolent, there was something a little bit off about them. Later she finds they drew a series of pictures depicting Lea's baby carriage being hit by a truck (!).

I assumed they were part of some subplot, but they promptly disappear from the film and are never seen again.

• Mia goes down to the dark, dripping and scary basement of their new apartment. While there, she experiences terrifying supernatural visions of a sinister baby carriage and a demonic figure that may or may not be real. 

She runs to the elevator and frantically pushes the buttons before the demon can grab her. The doors take an agonizingly long time to close, and when they open up again, she's still in the hellish basement! This happens several more times as she's seemingly trapped, before she finally manages to escape to the floors above.

Credit where credit's due– these scenes were very well done and very effective and the only reasonably scary part of the entire movie.

• Mia tells John that she thinks Annabelle is possessed by a demon, and without even blinking he calls Father Perez for advice. 

It seemed to me like John accepted the idea of a possessed doll a little too quickly. For a minute I thought maybe he was just going along with Mia to calm her down until he could get her checked into an asylum.

• I was starting to suspect that Mia's friend Evelyn was somehow involved with the cult, which would have fit in nicely with the Rosemary's Baby parallels. She was nice and all, but there was this vaguely sinister undercurrent about her. Especially near the end when Lea went missing and she told Mia to forget about her and they'd "find her later." Apparently she was just a red herring.

• Speaking of Evelyn– what the hell (literally) happened to her at the end?

Annabelle is possessed by a demon that wants a soul. Mia is willing to give it hers to save Lea, but at the last second Evelyn offers up hers instead. She grabs Annabelle and leaps out the window with her, dying on the hard pavement below. The demon then presumably vacuums up her soul.

So what happens to Evelyn's soul now? Is it in hell with the demon for all eternity? What kind of a god would allow something like that to happen? 

We're told that Evelyn caused her daughter Ruby's death in a car accident. Is this her punishment for that event? Harsh!

• I have to wonder if the police are keeping a wary eye on Mia and John now. In just a few months time they've been tangentially involved in the deaths of five people, three of which died in their home (their neighbors, their neighbor's daughter and her boyfriend, and now Evelyn). This couple is bad news!

Annabelle is a by-the-numbers evil doll movie that offers few scares and cribs liberally from Rosemary's Baby. If you're hankering for a possessed doll film, you're better off sticking with Chucky. I give it a B-.


  1. The movie took place in 1969--which is why they had the news story about the Manson murders early on. The Doritos bag was not an anachronism.

  2. Great confusion seems to surround exactly when this movie takes place. When I wrote the review, every source I referenced said 1967. Now when I look again I see sites claiming it takes place in 1968, 1969 and even 1970! Why is the year such a mystery?

    I'd have to watch the movie again to confirm the date, and THAT ain't happening!

  3. Is that case open? The one with the Original Annabelle? Look closely...

  4. Haw! It sure looks like it's open! Someone can't read!

    Maybe they opened it so the flash wouldn't reflect in the glass?

    1. Heh yeah. Wouldn't surprise me if someone can't read. Well as long as they didn't touch it 😉


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